Private sponsorship, a life-changing opportunity for refugees, affords them a fresh start in a new country where they can live safely and freely.
It can also be rewarding for sponsors, as they realize their capacity to make a tangible difference in the lives of others and see their country through the eyes of a newcomer.
Both parties take a leap of faith, committing a whole year journeying alongside one another before ever having met. Yet, sponsors and newcomers attest to the positive impact of the experience on their lives.
Many refugees see their lives transform from fear and danger to safety and hope.
Janice Skafel noted the change in a Syrian man sponsored by St. Luke’s Burlington: “He got off that plane looking very tired and frowning, probably anticipating nothing but anxiety and problems for his family in a country he didn’t understand. But now, he has quite a sense of humour. He laughs, and he’s a delight to be around; he’s a different person.”
Emad Al-Hariri had a similar experience at St. John the Evangelist Hamilton. When he first came to Canada, he faced many challenges and fears relating to a new language, culture and climate. Instead of becoming disheartened, he said, “these things make my life interesting, they motivate me to do my best and put me in the correct way to start my new life”.
Without any extended family here, Emad said, “my sponsors are my friends and family now, and the reason I feel that I belong to this country is my sponsors”. They treat him as a member of their family, not as a stranger, and try to understand his culture and respect his beliefs. “Those people let me see the beautiful side of life when I was very disappointed and hopeless because of the war in my country.”
Sponsors are transformed by the opportunity to learn and grow through their sponsorship involvement. Rector Stuart Pike of St. Luke’s Burlington said, “The way we engage our faith is in what we do for the other, for the stranger. When you’re experiencing faith working in you and in others, it only increases faith. That’s really been the experience of our parish. I believe faith is about getting your hands dirty and rolling up your sleeves. Faith is an active thing, it’s not just a cognitive thing.”
When we engage our faith this way, the results are tremendous. Janice Skafel emphasizes the value this way, “It certainly deepened my understanding of the Gospel. When we talk about loving your neighbour, you don’t understand that really until you are walking hand in hand with a family like this who may be strangers on paper, or strangers because they live in a foreign country – but when you get walking with them on that journey, they are like you. They are people with families and kids that they love, and fears and aspirations and goals.”
For some sponsors, getting to know a refugee family makes for a lifelong friendship. Linda Tripp of St. George’s Guelph described her relationship to the family they sponsored: “They will always be a part of my life. I want to watch the children grow up. They sent me an email the other night: ‘Linda, you are our mother. We love you forever.’ I feel like I’m part of their family, and they’re part of me now.”
To learn more about refugee sponsorship and how to become a sponsor, contact Scott McLeod below.
Emily Fitch served as Refugee Sponsorship and Settlement Assistant for Niagara Diocese.
(World Refugee Day is Thursday, June 20, 2019. Since 2001, the UN has held the annual observance on June 20th as a day to bring public awareness to the difficult situations faced by the millions of refugees scattered across our globe. Check it out on the web.)